Lead Actress in a Limited Series / TV Movie
2016 is Sarah Paulson’s year. Fans know it. Critics know it. With two nominations this year, clearly the Television Academy knows it. After four consecutive losses (and two crushing snubs) fans of Sarah Paulson began to question if she would ever win. Then Ryan Murphy granted her (and us all) the gift of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Her performance as Marcia Clark checks off all the right boxes: a buzzed about show, an historical role, and plenty of watercooler moments. Voters know this is her year, and if they gave it two anybody else the online blogosphere will never let them live it down.
As far out ahead as she is, this is the year where she has the strongest competition. Early in the season Kirsten Dunst was the frontrunner for her career renaissance in Fargo, but she will likely suffer from the same snobbery to 1990’s/early 2000’s tabloid stars that cost Christian Slater his first nomination. Lili Taylor gave the most heartwrenching performance of the year (and my personal favorite), but she’ll split the vote with her less deserving costar, Felicity Huffman. Audra McDonald is beloved in the theatre community, but there is no chance that the acting branch is going to award what is essentially a filmed Broadway performance. Plus, she has her arsenal of Tonys to keep her warm at night.
If Emmy voters do decide to ignore Sarah Paulson for a fifth consecutive year, then it will be for Kerry Washington who in any other year would be a lock to win. She’ll pick up some votes for simply starring in a prestige HBO biopic (the network has taken this award 11 of the past 16 years). Washington is also an industry darling, and there are a lot of Scandal fans in the acting branch.
In the end, she likely won’t upset Paulson because no one seemed to love Confirmation as a TV film. Compare that to Sarah Paulson who has been nominated more times than Washington, gave the better performance, and starred in the more well liked program. Voters will be happier to award Paulson.
Sarah Paulson, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Kerry Washington, Confirmation
Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Lili Taylor, American Crime
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Lead Actor in a Limited Series / TV Movie
Every single television journalist and pundit has spent the past six months praising Courtney B. Vance’s performance as Johnnie Cochran, making him the obvious choice to win the Emmy this September. Then just about every one of those pundits decided to predict Bryan Cranston for his portrayal of LBJ in HBO’s All the Way.
Like Kerry Washington, Bryan Cranston checks off all the typical Emmy requirements and to an even higher degree. His work on Breaking Bad has made him quite possibly the most respected actor working in television. Pairing that with HBO’s big biopic of the year based off of the Tony-winning play seems like a done deal in terms of typical voter preferences. Cranston’s only setback is that All The Way isn’t very good. In fact, the TV movie is pretty boring. Courtney B. Vance on the other hand is one of the stars on the biggest television event of the year, and, if last year’s Limited Series/TV movie winners are any indicator, the acting branch might prefer to pick their favorite limited series of the year and just check it off everywhere.
This race has a lot of parallels to the 2014 race when two costars of a major limited series (Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman in Fargo) squared off against the lead of a major HBO film (Mark Ruffalo). In the end, the major upset of the night was from a fan favorite British import (Benedict Cumberbatch). This scenario could play out this year but the three British imports will likely cancel each other out in the end. Idris Elba is coming off a SAG win, and Benedict Cumberbatch is a previous winner. Judging from the overall representation, The Night Manager is probably the most popular amongst the actors this year.
The performance with zero traction this year seems to be the only Oscar winner in the group, Cuba Gooding Jr. Even if he doesn’t have a chance of winning, as the titular character of The People v. O.J. Simpson, there is a risk of him taking votes away from Vance, making it even easier for Cranston to his fifth performance Emmy. So far, Emmy voters in 2016 have proven that they have been paying attention to material and not rewarding people solely on name. Because of that, I am going to cling to Courtney B. Vance.
Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager
Idris Elba, Luther
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Cuba Gooding Jr., The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story